Letten Prize Winner 2021

Meta Roestenberg

The Letten Prize Committee met on May 5 to identify the top candidates and the winner of the Letten Prize 2021. After interviews with five candidates, tree of the long listed candidates were found to be significantly better qualified for the Prize than the other candidates. These are (in alphabetical order) Tolullah Oni, Meta Roestenberg and Ramona Vijeyarasa.

Among these three candidates, the Letten Prize board decided to give the prize to Meta Roestenberg for her outstanding research on poverty related infectious diseases, her excellent research proposal which seeks to establish cost effective vaccination programs, as well as her strong social commitment of her scholarly work. 

Meta Roestenberg receives the news that she won the Letten Prize.


The committees citation

Meta Roestenberg hails from Netherland and is affiliated with the Leiden University Medical Center where she is the clinical head of the Controlled Human Infection Center. Professor Roestenberg has dedicated her life to harness and deploy her scientific and professional expertise to serve the poorest and the underprivileged people of the world. She works across several disciplines including malaria, schistosomiasis, neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, and controlled human infections. She has interned in Philippines, India, and Namibia, experiences from which has served as a deep source motivation for her work. Through her outstanding scholarly activities and as a practicing medical doctor and scientist, she has published important articles in various international respected journals such as the PLoS Pathogen, Science Translational Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Medicine, and Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Her engagement and outreach extend way beyond her excellent academic achievements in the area of health. She works closely together with vaccine researchers in Uganda, Zambia, India, and Burkina Faso, which allows bi-directional transfer of knowledge and exchange of staff. She is a member of the WHO Malaria Vaccines Advisory Committee and the working group on development of WHO guidance on Human Challenge Studies among others. Her efforts will continue to have a great impact on solution of poverty-related infectious diseases in countries where the clinical need is highest. She further aims to train a new generation of (female) scientists and physicians in order to extend the benefits of science to a global health.

In Professor Roestenberg’s research proposal, she seeks to establish cost-effective vaccination programs in prevention of neglected infectious diseases by engaging competent Ph.D. students and encouraging the research associated with vaccine development. Through a complex proof of concept study testing existing vaccines’ applicability as vaccine adjuvants, she aims to record the entire process alongside interviews with ethicists and regulators and use this as a means of capacity building and sharing of knowledge. She will explore unchartered territories in malaria vaccine development whilst at the same time developing open access interactive education, which facilitates technology transfer urgently needed to ensure that the next generation Sub-Saharan scientists are able to drive malaria vaccine research programs. The committee views the project as well aligned with the Letten vision, and it is promising with a high impact outcome potential, especially for the developing countries.

In summary, Professor Roestenberg’s achievements and vision meet the criteria listed in the call for the Letten Prize. She has contributed significantly to the research on the infectious diseases prevalent in countries with low resources. Furthermore, she has pioneered the efforts to establish an effective network with researchers in such regions, to solve the poverty-related infectious diseases. Her work has had – and will continue to have – a positive impact worldwide. Simultaneously, her career serves as a sterling example of research that combines scientific excellence and rigor with true social engagement. Professor Roestenberg is a worthy winner of the Letten Prize 2021.

Interview with Meta

The same day as the prize was announced, Meta was interviewed in an online event hosted by The World Federation of Science Journalists:

Meta Roestenberg interviewed by Thiago Medaglia.

Read more about Meta Roestenberg at the Lettenprize.com


Shortlisted candidates for the Letten Prize 2021

Tolullah “Tolu” Oni (from Nigeria/ UK) is a public health physician and urban epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge. She leads the Global Diet and Activity Research group in Cambridge and the Research Initiative for Cities Health and Equity (RICHE|Africa) group at the University of Cape Town where she is an Honorary Associate Professor. Her enthusiasm towards a better understanding and identification of factors that drive inequality is timely, in order to enable science to contribute to fairer, healthier, more sustainable cities. Her main motivation lies within the notion of focusing on what is possible, to stand a chance of transcending what is.

Oni has played a critical role in advancing scholarship in the nascent field of urban health research in Africa. She has published her research in high-impact journals and given keynote presentations at global meetings including the World Science Forum, World Health Summit, the UN, the WHO, and the Gates Grand Challenges annual meeting. She is an award-winning young researcher with a stellar track record. Through her projects, she is supervising and inspiring a new generation of boundary-spanning researchers across disciplines and sectors in Africa.

Oni is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, co-chaired the Global Young Academy from 2017-2019, and is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Her interest in the practice of urban health led her to found UrbanBetter – an Africa-led, equity-centred and youth-privileged learning collaborative and advocacy platform – to connect and mobilize individuals, communities, and organizations for healthy sustainable urban environments.

Her research plan is to establish the UrbanBetter Academy, a research and training platform, that would work in tandem with the existing advocacy platform, to increase the demand for healthy places and increase the supply of health from place. This academy will mainstream urban health research into society and activate the agency of youth to shifts norms towards healthy urban development in Africa. The citizen science approach aims to both increase the involvement of youth in science while encouraging participation in urban governance as active citizens. This involves working with youth to generate actionable data about their cities while building the research capacity and agency needed to achieve this mission. In addition to building capacity of early career researchers, this platform will generate evidence on the changing urban environment, encourage youth participation and inform advocacy for change, and inform public and private decision-making on urban infrastructure, development, and planning for healthy, sustainable African cities.

Her project is interdisciplinary, with broad collaboration between communities and sectors, and the building of a citizen science platform with and for youth will enable a broader understanding of the current inequalities in health exposures in cities. This bottom-up strategy is combined with a top-down approach collaborating with governments and urban developers, and results in a project with a global outlook and Oni is clearly positioned to achieve the goals she has set out for the project.

Oni is committed to addressing complex population health challenges through research, and her previous research has paved the way for strategies that connects science, policy, and societal role players to break silos of sectors and disciplines, and of research and practice. Through her scientific potential and her emphasis on what is possible she is a highly qualified runner-up for the 2021 Letten Prize.

Read more about Tolu Oni at the Lettenprize.com.


Ramona Vijeyarasa (from Australia) is a Senior Lecturer in the field of international women’s rights law and gender equality at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). She is also the 2020-2021 Women’s Leadership Institute Australia Research Fellow and she is affiliated with Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law (ANZSIL). Ramona has a strongly-held belief in the need to promote the advancement of women’s rights with evidence-based research if change is to be accelerated. Through her various experiences with communities, international organizations and not at least the women inspiring her, she is destined to make a significant and lasting contribution to improving women’s lives.

Vijeyarasa’s research has made a significant impact through publications in high impact journals and books, as well as through public and scientific dissemination. Her research pursues new and innovative strategies to help make headway on gender inequality through better use of the law and legal systems. Her well-reviewed book on the comparative study of human trafficking in Vietnam, Ghana and Ukraine dismantled the existing misconceptions about the demographic of victims allowing for better policy interventions. She has been the senior program manager for women’s rights at Action Aid International for six years, which is a leading international NGO operating in 46 countries on the issue of violence against women in public/urban spaces and she exponentially increased ActionAid’s visibility in UN-related advocacy fora.

She developed the Gender Legislative Index as a world first, a global index grounded in women’s rights with the capacity to evaluate individual provisions of individual laws that uses a machine learning algorithm to score them. Through this out-of-the-box solution she has collaborated with software engineers, data scientists and data visualization experts. Her research is thus multidisciplinary and methodologically innovative. The Gender Legislative Index offers a methodology and dataset that can profoundly improve women’s lives in low, middle and high-income countries and as such bridge the global north-south divide.

Her research ambition for the Letten Prize funds is to fulfill the potential within the Gender Legislative Index. Previously, the Index has been piloted on over 130 laws from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia and has demonstrated the possibility of advancing gender-responsive law reform on a global scale. The Letten Prize would be the catalyzer for this research, bringing visibility and scale to this Index, allowing it to fulfil its potential to make a difference for women across the globe.

Vijeyarasa has already demonstrated a profound impact on policy reform through her research and methodologically innovative Gender Legislative Index, and her ethos is similar to that of Letten – she sees and pursues connections where there previously were none and she sees them in areas others do not see as connected. Further, while critical voices of young scholars may easily get lost, the Letten Prize would add strength to these voices both for and with women. Lastly, Ramona Vijeyarasa sees the law as a solution rather than a problem and knows how to apply it. Yet, we need more research-based evidence to support the political will to implement legal systems for gender equality. Through her previous endeavors, highly relevant achievements and clear plans with an impact for the future of gender equity, Ramona Vijeyarasa is a highly qualified runner-up for the Letten Prize.

Read more about Ramona Vijeyarasa at the Lettenprize.com.